A triumphant reunion it was not for David Moyes, as Everton came to Old Trafford and left with all three points. The visitors needed until the final five minutes to grab their goal, but that mattered little: it’s Roberto Martinez’s side that leaves with the glory, while Manchester United remain in eighth place, 12 points behind leaders Arsenal.
The first half may have been scoreless, but it wasn’t boring. Everton, perhaps determined to prove themselves against their former manager, started off brightly, with two early attempts from Romelu Lukaku, and a tenth minute shot from Kevin Mirallas that Davide De Gea had to tip over the bar.
Then it was United’s turn to start turning the screws. Their first real attempt came after 15 minutes, when Wayne Rooney forced Tim Howard to parry his shot, and the Everton defense cleared the danger. As United started to put on the pressure, Howard was able to easily save a shot from Shinji Kagawa, while Ryan Giggs had a header go inches wide. Shortly before the break, Rooney had another go from close range, but again, it gave Howard no trouble.
Although United came out unchanged to start the second half, Moyes had made a double change before the hour was out — and no, it wasn’t a conservative switch to shut down the game and ensure a point. Out came Kagawa and Rafael, on came Nani and Adnan Januzaj. When, despite a flurry of activity around the 70th minute mark, United still couldn’t break through the Everton defense, Moyes decided to replace Danny Welbeck with Javier Hernández for the final ten minutes.
But in the end, it was Martinez’s tactics, and his persistence, that won out. In the 85th minute, Kevin Mirallas hit the post, then Romelu Lukaku went wide. The goal seemed inevitable. Sure enough, Lukaku blazed past compatriot Maroune Fellaini to put his cross in and Bryan Oviedo easily got past his defender at the far post to shoot past De Gea. That’s his second goal in as many matches — surely it’s not fair for Everton to have two left backs of such talent?
Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael (Januzaj 58), Vidic, Smalling, Evra; Valencia, Fellaini, Giggs, Kagawa (Nani 58), Welbeck (Hernández 81); Rooney
Subs not used: Lindegaard, Evans, Cleverley, Young
For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.
He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).
For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).
Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.
— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.
Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.
Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.
Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.
“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.
“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”
There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).
We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.